The 2021 Boston Asian American Film Festival (BAAFF) wraps up this weekend. The annual event will be completely virtual featuring a wide range of short films, feature films, documentaries, and panels.
The documentary A Tale of Three Chinatowns kickstarted opening night. It featured leaders from Boston’s Chinatown, including Cynthia Yee, Paul Lee, Lydia Lowe, Tunney Lee (now deceased), and many others. They recount the neighborhood’s past and describe its impact on their lives. Weaving together interviews, archival photos, and other historical clips, the documentary stresses the importance of maintaining Chinatowns as cultural havens.
A livestream Q&A with filmmakers Lisa Mao and Penny Lee followed the showing.
The film is a timely response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinatowns throughout the world have been struggling to stay afloat as business prospects declined. Worse yet, the specter of abandoned Chinatowns has sparked fears of residential displacement.
In an interview with Slate, Jackie Wang, communications head for the Welcome to Chinatown initiative in Manhattan’s Chinatown said, “There’s such a large elderly population in Chinatown. Since it’s this ecosystem where you can speak no English but get everything you need to get and do everything you need to do. It’s really hard to see it not be this safe haven for people.”
In regard to this year’s virtual event, BAAFF founding director Susan Chinsen acknowledged pandemic circumstances. Despite some challenges, the festival has proved to be one of the most diverse and eclectic in BAAFF history.
One example includes, Waikiki, the first feature film written and directed by a native Hawaiian. Chinsen noted that it was important to give this film a platform because “there’s a huge conversation about Asian American and Asian Pacific Islanders being lumped together.” Like Three Chinatowns, Christopher Kahunahana’s powerful debut also critiques capitalism and dispossession. The story is a fictional, hallucinatory weekend experienced by a young Hawaiian, desperate to find her own place.
Tickets for the 2021 BAAFF Virtual Festival are still on sale with the full line-up announced on their website. Join them in celebrating Asian American films to enjoy a wide range of films while supporting your local Asian American Community.
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